I think Thomas is my favorite bible character, but I’m not sure. Maybe it’s Gideon. Maybe not.
Some people never seem to doubt anything. They seem to have the answers to every question, and they think their answers are God-given. For example, some people say, in unequivocal terms, that the current Israeli regime is always right, and the Palestinians are terrorists, and always wrong, on the authority of scripture. They ignore scripture that indicates that God's promise of the land to Israel came with conditions. They are sure God brought the Israelis back, when it may have been earthly powers who did. Some people understand what the bible says about the origin of human beings, eternal security, baptism, church government, and speaking in tongues. They know what kind of church music is best. They have the correct answers all ready, with no exceptions or ambiguity. It’s all black and white. No gray. That’s not me. I’m gray around my face, and my brain has gray matter. I also think in gray a lot. I can see more than one side to most questions.
Part of my trouble is that I’m an academic. Academics are supposed to argue about questions and answers, and to present more than one side of an issue if they are teaching or writing about it. (They also often use parentheses, and maybe footnotes1, to set out contrary positions as fairly as they can.) But that’s not the whole story. There are academics who argue passionately for one side in some quarrel or other, and don’t seem to credit the other side with any sense whatsoever.
Am I right? Are the black and white people wrong? Naturally, I’m not sure.
One thing that I have noticed is that the black and white thinkers don’t always agree with each other. The question of eternal security will do here. There is scripture to support more than one side of the disagreement over whether, once saved, you are always saved, but you’d never know it from listening to many Christians. There’s only one way, and that’s it. Trouble is, someone else says the same thing about a different way. So there is a problem with being black and white on issues—you can be loudly and spectacularly wrong, or at least disagreed with.
On the other hand (of course!) there are problems with being gray. I can think of but two times when a biblical character is mentioned as being unsure. One of these is Thomas. The other is Gideon. That’s not very many. Paul and Peter, and the other writers of the New Testament, don’t seem to be exhorting us to be wishy-washy, or to nurse our doubts. Quite the contrary. So there’s also a problem with being gray.
I take some consolation from Gideon. Even though an angel appeared to him, and spoke to him, he still wasn’t sure. He asked for a sign. (More than one, in fact) And God didn’t strike him dead for testing Him. God gave him his signs. (I thought the angel was one!) God is not threatened or challenged if I’m really not sure about what He wants me to do, or believe.
I also take some consolation from Thomas. He refused to believe eyewitnesses. He wanted absolute proof. And then, Christ gave it to him. If I really need a sign, or a divine revelation, God can do that.
There are some gray questions, and some gray-thinking people. But there are some things that are certain. Even Thomas testified to that. He proclaimed Jesus as dead and risen Lord. My conclusion (I think) is that lots of things are uncertain, and it’s OK not to be sure of everything, but I’d better be sure of a few things, and the right ones. Thomas doubted, but he got the most important answer right. Jesus is the risen Lord and Christ. (John 20:28) That’s one thing I’d better be black and white on. The rest? Mostly gray.
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August 24, 2009: That post is here.
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